When it comes to observing body language and biometric cues, we want to stress the absolute imperative that we have as observers to put behavioral indicators together into clusters. Because gestures have different meaning in different contexts, we have to be cautious in the conclusions that we come to. One body language indicator alone does not tell us anything, but if you can identify a cluster of 3 kinesic or biometric cues all leading you to that same conclusion, you can increase the likelihood of your success. In his book What Every Body Is Saying, Joe Navarro talks about “the more pieces of the puzzle you posses, the better your chances of putting them all together and seeing the picture they portray” (pg 13).
When we observe the face, according to research done by Paul Ekman, you can assign a specific emotion to a single facial expression. Having this degree of certainty when it comes to facial expressions simplifies understanding human behavior, but still has its limitations. If the face leaks a micro-expression, an expression that lasts for 1/25th of a second, the observer may miss it.
The reason why we need to look for that cluster of 3 indicators is because we cannot prove that a gesture displayed on the body (outside of the face) only has one meaning. If someone has their arms crossed in front of their body, he may be closed off (putting a barrier up between you and them) or he may simply be cold (crossing his arms to maintain some warmth.) If you observe somebody who is blushing and looks flushed, he may be angry (reddening of the face is a biometric cue and an indicator of anger,) or he may also have just completed a work out (sweating due to the increased exertion.)
These are all single indicators. But if you can combine the arms crossed with other kinesic cues such as: raised shoulders (an instinctive reaction to the perception of danger) and a long drawn out exhale (one type of pacifying behavior,) you can now be reasonably certain that he is uncomfortable. If you combine the reddening of the face with other indicators such as balled up fists (a kinesic response in the preparation for a fight) and posturing (a final attempt to convince the other person to submit before a fight) you can now conclude that the individual is angry and preparing to fight.
The clusters we are going to look for fall into 4 primary categories:
These four primary clusters can be complemented by further assessing the interest or lack of interest a person is displaying, but only after observing the cues that form the primary clusters and when time is available.
One final note: we recommend you get a cluster of 3’s when you want to understand what that person’s emotional state is and begin to predict their behavior. If you observe any anomaly at all, you can still contact that person and figure out through conversation and questioning what is going on in their head.
If you observe any kinesic indicator that you associate with threats: such as a person patting or checking his waistband you do not have to wait for a cluster as these will indicate that the person means to do some sort of harm to others, or at least has the opportunity to do. Whenever you feel that your life or another person’s life is in danger, DO NOT WAIT for the cluster, but take action immediately.
Thoughts on clusters or have other examples when you don’t want to wait for 3? Let me know.